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7 Facts and Myths of HTML5

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This is a guest article contributed by Vail Joy.

HTML5

As Opera evangelist Bruce Lawson puts it, “Everyone’s talking about HTML5”. It’s perhaps the most hyped technology since people started putting rounded corners & gradients on everything. In fact, a lot of what people call HTML5 is actually just old-fashioned DHTML or AJAX. Mixed in with all the information is a lot of misinformation.

HTML5 is simply a new set of standards, semantics and rules for coding website markup that can take advantage of several new “native” browser features such as offline storage, multi-media playback and a small level of interaction. Much of what we see on HTML5 websites that is really cool or innovative isn’t the actual markup, but a combination of CSS3 and jQuery, both themselves new and exciting standards evolving right alongside HTML5.

As designers, we tend not to fuss about with code and semantics and JavaScript this or that, but whether your expertise is in identity and print design or includes a little of web design, expanding your comfort zone to include the fundamentals of these new technologies is necessary to stay competitive and sharp in our crowded industry.

For now, let’s dispel some myths about HTML5 to pique your interest. There are several HTML5 resources at the bottom for those of you who want to learn more.

Myth #1: HTML5 was invented because Apple stopped supporting Flash .

Apple seems to get blamed for everything, but while HTML5 has some amazing solutions for mobile, it was not created to meet the demands of the iPhone.  In fact, Opera and Mozilla got together back in 2004 to try to solve the problem of a messy web, defining seven principles for good design. Their goal was simple – propose these principles to W3C as a roadmap for a sleeker, faster, better HTML standard. The principles covered aspects such as backwards compatibility, error handling, practicality, open development and avoiding device-specific profiling. It wasn’t until 2006 that the proposal was accepted, and in three short years a new spec was drafted, closed and made ready for use.

Myth #2: HTML5 won’t be ready till 2022.

I’m not even sure how this myth began circulating, but the working draft was closed – meaning nothing more can be added or significantly changed – in 2009. Because it has been driven by Opera and Mozilla from the start, it may even reach W3C’s Candidate Recognition this year, as almost the entire spec is supported by both browsers. Even still, you can use HTML5 right now and rest assured it will degrade gracefully and work in older browsers with the inclusion of some lightweight JavaScript, all the way down to complex Canvas implementations. All current browsers support HTML5. What you need to be careful of isn’t the markup, it is the CSS. Even with pre-made CSS resets intended to help out older browsers, design built around CSS3 can fall apart in older browsers unless you take care of the details.

Myth #3:  HTML5 requires CSS3.

It makes the most sense to use semantic class names and CSS3 declarations when building something with HTML5, but it isn’t a requirement. HTML5 is just markup, so it gets along just fine with CSS2 styling, but what it does require is complete styling for all presentational elements of your design. In other words, the HTML5 spec removes attributes and tags that control the look or style of any element, and is no longer tolerant of inline styling. The browser is now the supreme governor of how your site is rendered and what rules you need to abide by when creating layout with your markup. For example, in HTML5 you need a “display:block” declaration for each HTML5 element for them to be understood properly in IE8 and earlier. In short, HTML5 needs styling to look good, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be CSS3.

Myth #4: HTML5 ruins accessibility.

On the contrary, HTML5 is built around accessibility. While drafting the spec, utmost care was taken to ensure each element works with WIA ARIA landmark roles.  These roles are specialized attributes added to your tags that allow accessibility devices such as screen readers to better interpret the site’s flow and content better. Converting a site to HTML5 may ruin the accessibility if these roles aren’t understood and implemented properly, but that won’t be the fault of the markup! See font accessibility.

Myth #5: HTML5 will kill Flash.

HTML5 Gloves

The fact is that Flash is still used by several million websites and developers world-wide. The misconception was born, once again, from the high profile fallout between Adobe and Apple and the rapid adoption of HTML5 audio and video for application and mobile development as a result. However, though HTML5 is great for low volume video playback, full HTML5 support requires two or three times the encoding chores of Flash support and still lacks many critical features currently available in plug-in based technologies. Currently, sites like Vimeo and YouTube use HTML5 technology largely for technology’s sake, and will not be moving away from Flash too rapidly. Developer Viki Hoo points out several other reasons why Flash will be around awhile in her compelling argument here.

But let’s get back to Flash with regards to web design. In that context, we are likely to see a rapid switch from Flash to HTML5 in the coming years. HTML5 is easier to learn and use, even for those of use without a high level of JavaScript mastery. It doesn’t require a 3rd Party plugin to work, loads faster and is extremely mobile friendly. So it isn’t that HTML5 will kill Flash, it’s that it will dominate the mobile design and development market.

Myth #6: If I add the new HTML5 doctype to my site, it is now HTML5.

It will be HTML5 as far as the browser is concerned, but HTML5 is more than a doctype. It is a full set of best practices, semantics and layout elements such as <header>, <nav>,<section>,<article> and <footer> that will make your website truly take advantage of the new capabilities of the browser and validate as HTML5. Naturally, adopting the new doctype is a step in the right direction to adopt HTML5, but it is important to learn what really makes an HTML5 website HTML5 before buying into an app, theme or platform that claims it is built with HTML5. Adobe’s new Muse app is a perfect example of this myth in action. You must also take into consideration the number of elements and attributes that have been depreciated in HTML5 and review your existing markup to ensure the best chance of compatibility.

Myth # 7: I’ll get more chicks/jobs/cash/respect if I use HTML5.

Mastering HTML5 probably won’t get you voted the sexiest man or woman alive; although it seems to have worked for Bruce Lawson. It is also not enough to get your foot in the door at a lucrative digital agency. In the end, your design skills and attention to detail are what will make you successful. With that said, learning about and adopting new technologies quickly does take passion and perseverance, which are both admirable traits. Your peers will probably respect you more if you use your knowledge to help them, or can achieve something new and great.

Designers should care about HTML5, but mastering it should be driven by a love of the principles it was based on and not an ideal of fame and riches.

For those who want to get their feet wet with HTML5 but don’t have much coding chops, you may like to check out Wix, who recently launched “the first full-featured HTML5 website builder” on the web. It’s basically a tool that helps you create completely custom websites without mucking about with styles, scripts and markup – unless you want to.

Recommended HTML5 Resources:

Do you have any HTML5 tips or resources to share?


+Vail Joy is a professional writer, designer and developer with a vibrant background in music business, photography and social media. When she is not contributing her expertise to blogs and e-zines, she is building HTML websites and slaying dragons for Obox Design.

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28 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • Mike (@michaelbrazell) Reply

    Myth #2 started because Ian Hickson correctly answered the question of when HTML5 would hit proposed recommendation, which, by rule, has to go through 2 browser generations (roughly estimated at 5 or 6 years each) after candidate recommendation (which is set for 2012). it’s accurate, that’s the rule, but since the moment Hickson said that it has been completely misinterpreted, even by people who -know- how this stuff works. Developers, designers, and hangers on all had ridiculous comments acting as if they couldn’t use HTML5 until 2022 after the remarks, even though they were using them right then and there in their browsers.

    It was bogus.

    That being said, I think that a major myth of HTML5 is just what HTML5 contains. It is a collection of specifications, that’s all. HTML5 is not CSS3, HTML5 is not SVG, HTML5 is not ajax, or even a specific webapp — HTML5 is just two specifications. One from W3C and one from WHATWG (sort of, WHATWG doesn’t call their latest spec HTML5, just HTML, but whatever, we all get it).

    • vail Reply

      That is right on Mike. CSS3 is often confused or clumped with HTML5, and while the two will ultimately co-exist, it is a huge reason why HTML5 gets a bad rap about usability. Thank you for offering your perspective and the additional insight on Ian!

  • DM Reply

    Myth #2: HTML5 won’t be ready till 2022.

    That might be about right if everything needs to work on Internet Explorer. :-)

  • Marco Berrocal Reply

    Brilliant stuff right there. I love myth number 6..lol it’s so true though. Some people use the Doctype and that’s that and say, OH i use html5.

  • The Vector Box Reply

    Great post, thank you for the recommended HTML5 resources.

  • Melbourne Web Design Reply

    HTML 5 is definetly the future of the web, but when will IE make it comparable ?

  • Fadi (itoctopus) Reply

    I think in Myth #5 you are hinting that even though HTML5 will not kill flash on the short term, it will kill it in a few years.

    Flash will be still supported by most browsers through plugins in a few years from now, but no decent developer/website will use it then. Good riddance, we (programmers) never liked it anyway.

  • Amit Das Reply

    Myth#8 Geolocation, Web Storage is a part of HTML5 –
    Geolocation – It’s actually a JavaScript API. The viewer needs to allow their geographic location information to be shared with the website. It’s a very common misconception that Geolocation is actually a part of HTML5 but it’s a javascript API that was developed for the browsers supporting it.

    Web Storage – Again, it’s a JavaScript API.

    - – - – - – -
    The HTML5 vs Flash debate is kind of obsolete now-a-days. What people usually don’t get is that the market for heavy Flash based websites and HTML websites are very different. Check out http://www.thefwa.com They have an outstanding showcase of the possibilities of Flash in websites.

  • Security Reply

    I think we can all agree the HTML 5 is the future. Flash has been dead. When does HTML 5 come to internet explorer? HA

  • asrm Reply

    Though HTML5 has not ‘killed’ flash, but for the sake of SEO’s, I guess developers will stick to HTML5 atleast for a while now…..

  • Jessica Reply

    Thanks for the information I have been reading about HTML5 It looks like it is a good platform for the fact (at least from what I read) it will work on all mobile devices, It is sad that apple won’t run flash (that is why I have an android phone). But that is no reason that HTML5 would come out!

  • Brian Reply

    “[HTML5] is no longer tolerant of inline styling”

    Nonsense, of course HTML5 is “tolerant” of inline styles, how else would you do dynamic visual effects (animating position, for example)? The spec clearly defines that CSS agents should parse inline styles, and does not warn against their usage. (Obviously there are many good reasons to generally prefer external stylesheets, but HTML5 being “intolerant” of inline styling isn’t one of them)

    What it DOES say, is that elements “must still be comprehensible and usable” if inline styles are not present. Frankly, ALL content should be comprehensible and usable even in the absence of visual styling, so this is just confirming best practices.

    Other than this nitpick, great article, thanks.

  • Francisco Reply

    HTML5 is the biggest change in web development in recent years. The problem, as always, is the browsers. Especially IE.

    Great article.

  • Paul Reply

    The only people who don’t like HTML5 is people who still use IE8 or lower.

  • Richard Razo Reply

    Adobe Muse, Wix, goDaddy Website Tonight, webs.com… these all suck. Not sure why you would give a shout out to Wix. They mislead small biz owners by stating FREE but any decent feature they want to charge for. Even at $4/month you still have their adds on your website. Plus the code generated is not SEO-it’s bloated with unnecessary markup.

    Why am I ranting? Because I’m a freelance designer and these companies are taking biz away from me and offering inferior products. Wix marketing is just plain misleading so I pick on them out of the ones I listed. On the bright side Wix does have the best designs out of the ones I listed.

    • Jacob Cass Reply

      Hi Richard,
      I was unaware of this, the author is a representative from Wix so this is where the shout out comes from. Thanks for letting me know.

    • Clive Portman Reply

      I must admit I’d switched off by that point, but having read that final paragraph I can’t help thinking this article is a shameless plug. A good one, though, even if the same points have been brought up many times before.

  • Andrew Zar Reply

    You missed a big myth : HTML5 CAN replace Flash

    I’ve yet to see any way to do a timeline, establish events including video, sound, music, art to sync to the timeline in a controlled way, and to show that content off in a small file size format.

    Apple started that myth by saying HTML5 is the “future” while Flash is not – yet there is no such thing as a HTML5 version of Flash. I’d looooove to be corrected and for someone to show me a cross-browser supported technology similar to Flash’s capabilities that also works in iOS.

  • J F Reply

    A very useful article, especially now that HTML 5 is really in. Myth #7 really made me laugh.

  • IanO Reply

    Great read starting to build all my sites with HTML5. I think the big problem is people still using older versions of IE, surely we should look at getting people update old browsers so we can all use HTML5 as standard.

  • Web Agency Reply

    Really useful Myths!! #myths 1.. not only Html 5 is a solution of apple applications but it is seo friendly language then JavaScript and Flesh. Because most search engines are not comfortable with these languages.

  • Beth Reply

    Another little “nitpick:” Elements are deprecated, not depreciated (Myth #6, last sentence). Depreciation refers to a drop in monetary value, something that generally isn’t associated with HTML elements and attributes. ;-)

  • Laquita Quintanilla Reply

    As designers, we tend not to fuss about with code and semantics and JavaScript this or that, but whether your expertise is in identity and print design or includes a little of web design

  • Noriko Obryan Reply

    Another little “nitpick:” Elements are deprecated, not depreciated (Myth #6, last sentence). Depreciation refers to a drop in monetary value, something that generally isn’t associated with HTML elements and attributes. ;-)

  • Lynsey Aguiar Reply

    I’d looooove to be corrected and for someone to show me a cross-browser supported technology similar to Flash’s capabilities that also works in iOS.

  • download free screensavers Reply

    I must admit I’d switched off by that point, but having read that final paragraph I can’t help thinking this article is a shameless plug. A good one, though, even if the same points have been brought up many times before.

  • Coralee Mckeown Reply

    Really useful Myths!! #myths 1.. not only Html 5 is a solution of apple applications but it is seo friendly language then JavaScript and Flesh. Because most search engines are not comfortable with these languages.

  • Jakob Sternberg Reply

    Myth #1:

    Apple did infact invent Canvas.
    Without it, the whole HTML5 vs Flash wouldnt be an issue.

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